Togo’s president wins, keeping family’s long hold on power

LOME, TOGO (AP) — Togo’s electoral commission said yesterday the country’s president has easily won a fourth term, extending the grip his family has had on power since 1967, while the opposition alleged organised fraud.

The commission announced overnight that President Faure Gnassingbe received 72 per cent of the votes in preliminary results. The West African nation’s constitutional court will make the final, official announcement.

The political opposition, which for years has called for new leadership, said several of their delegates were prevented from voting last Saturday. Internet access was restricted on election day.

Opposition candidate Agbeyome Kodjo, who was second with 18 per cent of the vote, saw his home surrounded by the military as vote-counting began. The Minister of Security General Damehame Yark, said it was done to ensure protection.

Kodjo said in a statement last Sunday that “the data we have collected so far throughout the country indicate that we have won the election by 57 to 61 per cent of the votes.” He called on the President to step down.

The current President took office in 2005 following the death of his father, who seized power in 1967. Under the country’s current law, Gnassingbe could remain in office until 2030.

Months of anti-government protests in 2017, with about 20 people killed, were a marked sign of impatience with the Gnassingbe family’s hold on power.

Shortly before last Saturday’s vote, Togo expelled a major United States (US)-based election observer, the National Democratic Institute, and decided against using an electronic vote-counting system. In both cases, the electoral commission said it feared disruption, while critics objected.

The election was observed by 26 other international observation missions and over 30 Togolese civic groups.

Gnassingbe enacted a law last year that limits presidents to two five-year terms. However, the law was not retroactive, so his previous three terms are not counted.

The election was held against the backdrop of rising prices for basic necessities, a weak health system and an education system in which teachers continually threaten strikes. Unemployment among young people is increasing.

The President called on voters to renew confidence in him to guarantee peace and security in Togo amid a growing extremism threat in the West African region.